Publishers Find Way Into Readers' Hearts Is Through Stomachs

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Dining and traveling are important verticals for publishers looking for digital growth.
Dining and traveling are important verticals for publishers looking for digital growth.

The digital publisher recipe for online growth: Take a dash of food video, stir in plenty of social media, heap on the branded content—then bake a new brand.

News doesn't quite monetize as well as lifestyle fare, so publishers from Mic to Time are serving up new batches of content to attract more eyeballs. Food video views on Facebook, which has rewarded lifestyle publishers who post video, were up 283% last year over 2015, according to Tubular Labs.

This week, Mic, the social-minded millennial site, and Complex, the lifestyle publisher, are both entering the fray with new foodie-focused fare. Meanwhile, Time Inc.'s two-month-old Well Done, which publishes direct to Facebook, just landed its first sponsor, Kraft Heinz.

"The bedrock of Mic has been hard news: social justice, Black Lives Matter, culture, movements around the globe," said Cory Haik, Mic's publisher. "These are the values our audience brings to the table."

Mic's new channel, Out of Office, promises to serve that audience food and travel content, especially on Instagram. Visa is an early sponsor.

"We're not just posting beautiful pics of food," Haik said. "It's about doing something that connects back to a larger mission and the way younger people want to engage with the world."

Time draws on food content from all of its titles—including People, Food & Wine and Travel & Leisure and Southern Living—for its recently created digital food desk, which runs Facebook pages like Well Done and sites like Extra Crispy, introduced last June. One recent video examined the psychology of tasting cilantro.

"Food and money are the two subjects everybody thinks about every day," said Edward Felsenthal, group digital director for news and lifestyle at Time Inc.

The granddaddies of all these food spinoffs are Tastemade and BuzzFeed's Tasty, a social media video machine that ballooned to 85 million followers on Facebook. No wonder others want in.

Complex's new star chef is taking a different tack. Jeremiah Bullfrog, who started shooting videos with rapper Rick Ross, has a show on Verizon's Go90. Verizon and Hearst own Complex Media in a joint venture.

Bullfrog shot eight episodes of "Forks It!," which promises a grittier ad-supported travel and food experience, where he visits cities and finds local food and culture. (Vice has a similar show with rapper Action Bronson called "Fuck, That's Delicious.")

"I'm not a food personality," Bullfrog said. "What I do and what I'm good at is cooking food."

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said Verizon's Go90 owns part of Complex Media. Go90 is a unit of Verizon, which owns Complex along with Hearst, but Go90 itself does not have a stake in Complex. It also said Bullfrog shot a series called "Forked It." The correct title is "Forks It!"

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